Charlottesville is a teaching moment in how liberal democracies should work. And it’s also a distressing barometer of just how many have betrayed it. What went so wrong?
The first thing to remember is white nationalists, white supremacists, and their rallies are nothing new. My first thought was the Nazi rally in the Blues Brothers. Take the analogy however far you want. The fact is rallies of people you don’t like with repulsive agendas have always been around, and the right to hold them is still guaranteed under the first amendment. This is no different under Trump as it was under his predecessors.
Here’s the basic timeline: a bunch of white supremacists and white nationalists organized a #UniteTheRight rally in Charlottesville, starting Friday night August 11th, to protest removing the statue of Robert E. Lee. They got the necessary permits, it was a peaceful assembly.
Things went smoothly enough until the next day. The New York Times gives a good timeline of events, but beyond that the details are sketchy and the passions are heated. I’ve seen reports that people wanting to attend the rally were forced to walk through Antifa counterprotests which attacked them a number of ways. But the big detail is the one the New York times pointed out – that police were forced to stand down right when passions got most heated and they were needed most:
Barricades encircling the park and separating the two sides began to come down, and the police temporarily retreated. People were seen clubbing one another in the streets, and pepper spray filled the air… Declaring the gathering an unlawful assembly, the police had cleared the area before noon, and the Virginia National Guard arrived as officers began arresting some who remained.
Finally, things climaxed when a man ran his car through a crowd of counter-protestors, killing one and wounding 19. Even the details about this are sketchy. The driver is identified as James Fields, with a history of Nazi and White Nationalist sympathies.
The tires of his car were still smoking when everyone started pointing fingers and shaking fists. Everyone tripped over themselves to call the white supremacists disgraceful, disgusting, as if that’s the only thing that matters. The media tried to tie this to Trump, thinking they could force him to distance himself from people he never had anything to do with.
All of them are missing the point: this is not how a liberal democracy works. People you don’t like get to have their rallies, and they get to be protected at those rallies from those who would do them harm. If you act violently against someone who is not committing a crime, it is you who are now the criminal.
When you don’t protect people from exercising their right to speak and peaceably assemble, this is the escalation you encourage. The white nationalists, all too familiar with previous rallies, start defending themselves with helmets, sticks, stones, and this time a car. People get bloody, people get killed. Because those charged with governing have abandoned their responsibilities.
This event is symbolic of everything that’s wrong with the country. Law-enforcement officials don’t enforce the law. Politicians make political hay out of every atrocity imaginable. And people revert to cavemen when they think their tribe is being threatened.
Indeed Jeff Sessions is already opening a Civil Rights investigation into what went wrong here. It would be nice to pay attention to this investigation, and it would be nice to make our conclusions based on what we find out.
I suspect that high into this investigation is negligence on the part of the police or the mayor. Why did they order the police to stand down, right when they were needed most? Did the police so fear for their lives that they felt better off letting people go at each other’s throats? That could be the case, as the VA state police spokeswoman puts it.
Another charge claims the mayor purposely told them to stand down while letting the unpermitted counter-protest run rampant, to somehow score political points with the left. This would certainly be consistent with rallies throughout the country, where mayors feel they can thwart a rally they don’t like by withholding security. This isn’t limited to white nationalists. Milo’s speech in Berkeley was shut down with the same tactics.
I shouldn’t have to say I’m not a fan of Nazis. The very idea that people need to say it gives me hives. You know how you defeat these people in a free country? Sargon of Akkad gives a great example in his interview with Baked Alaska, an outspoken white nationalist. He lets him speak, he has a discussion, and Baked Alaska refutes himself quite nicely, as he both denies the Holocaust and gloats about memeing a Laura Loomer in a gas chamber.
And here’s the thing. Your representatives need to have cooler heads about this. Their job is to collect the facts and communicate them to their constituents. Any of them who came out and made blanket judgments about people in this country yesterday, anyone who tried to score political points, these are demagogues who should not hold public office.